So often do we see impassioned defences of Palestinians and harsh attacks on their “brutal” oppressors, that we often forget that there is another side to this incredibly controversial conflict.
After a judo match at the Rio Olympics, the Egyptian judoka named Islam El Shehaby refused to shake the hand of his Israeli counterpart Or Sasson. Whilst this doesn’t amount to a diplomatic crisis, it is symbolic of the Arab world’s attitude to Israel, and the Jewish people within. When Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn banded Israel and the so-called Islamic State together at an event designed to tackle rumours of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, he fell into a well-sprung trap of casual and systematic abuse of the citizens of Israel. For centuries, the Jewish people have suffered conspiracy, abuse and even genocide and even in the modern West the issue of casual anti-Semitism still exists.
Israel, which has existed as an independent country twice before its establishment in 1948, has a firm legal right to exist. Alan Dershowitz, former Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and expert on civil liberties and human rights, stated that “Lawyers, not generals, were the midwives of Israel’s rebirth.” From the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to the UN Partition Plan of 1947, the founders of Israel took every reasonable step to ensure that their state would be one of a solid legal founding. Immediately after its legitimate establishment in 1948, all of its major Arab neighbours blatantly violated international law and attacked Israel in the first Arab-Israeli War (in which Israel lost one per cent of its population) and continued to attack and provoke Israel into what would become a series of wars that spanned decades. Surrounded by Arab nations and militant groups that want to see its destruction, Israel has been subjected to attack after attack from its hostile neighbours. In 2014, Palestinians fired 4005 rockets and 31 mortars into Israeli territory, leading Israel to launch Operation Protective Edge, otherwise known as the Gaza War.
During the 2014 Gaza war, the Israeli Defence Forces took major steps to ensure the safety of civilians. In an unprecedented act of responsible warfare, Israel gave prior warning to civilians in Gaza of the exact positions they would be targeting. Why did Israel do this? Because Hamas, the governing authority of the Gaza Strip, continually places military instalments in civilian areas. Never in the history of warfare has an army leafletted, telephoned, radio messaged and texted its enemy to inform them of where their bombs would be targeted. Whilst Hamas commits war crimes as official government policy, including torture and the use of civilians as human-shields, Israel takes every precaution possible to lower the risk to Palestinian civilians. I am, by no means, suggesting that Israel is innocent of aggression. However, when Hamas hides weapons in schools and in hospitals, Israel is placed in an incredibly difficult position. When Hamas digs an expansive network of “terror tunnels” that cross into Israeli territory and fires hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians, Israel is forced to act. Hamas, the elected governing party, whose military wing is considered a terrorist organisation by most of the West (including the US, UK and the EU), constantly forces Israel to act aggressively and then uses those attacks as evidence for their cause.
Putting all of this aside, it’s time for some hard evidence of the difficult position that Israel finds itself in. In a poll conducted in June of 2014 (one month before the Gaza War) 68.4 per cent of the people of Gaza (and 55.4 per cent in the West Bank) wanted to reclaim “all of historic Palestine from the river to the sea”. The complete rejection of a two-state solution is now the majority position in both the West Bank and in Gaza. To reiterate, Israel is surrounded by those who would see their state destroyed. Not only that, but in the second part of the same poll in Gaza and the West Bank, 64 per cent said that even if the Palestinian leadership was able to negotiate a two-state solution with Israel, “resistance should continue until all of historic Palestine is liberated”. What else is Israel supposed to do other than defend itself against a government that clearly despise everything they stand for? Even after a diplomatic solution to the conflict had been agreed, the Palestinian population would continue to fight against them. After the establishment of Israel, roughly 850,000 Jews were forced to leave the surrounding Arab nations that they had been citizens of for generations. The thought of what would happen to the Jewish population of Israel were Palestine to achieve their goal, doesn’t even bear thinking about.
Israel is by no means an innocent participant of this two-way struggle. Guilty of land-grabs, pre-emptive military action and aggressive foreign policy, Israel is far from the perfect nation. For a truly long-lasting peace, it is imperative that the Israelis must make concessions bilaterally with the Palestinians. But, encircled by enemies, it cannot be denied that Israel has made the best of a very bad situation. Their restraint and consideration for Palestinian civilian lives is admirable, especially considering the appalling disregard for their own people shown by Hamas. In a region defined by violence, instability and intolerance, Israel has established itself as the single beacon of hope for our values. If the West wishes to influence the region in a positive way, as part of a long-term plan, it must support Israel’s right to exist, and view Israel as a “foot in the door” for Western values in the Middle East.